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AHA Report on Increasing Access to Care in Rural Communities

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. As Harris peered into his infant baby’s crib, tears welled up in his eyes. For the first time since his daughter was born a week back, she was breathing on her own. It was their third baby in 5 years. His previous children, both boys, had survived for 5 and 10 months respectively before succumbing to infections they contracted at the time of birth owing to lack of proper child care facilities in their village.

This time, though, Harris and his wife were determined to do everything to give their kid the best chance at survival so they saved enough money to travel to the city. Harris left his job at the oil rig to take up a temp position as a mechanic at a local auto-parts store while his wife remained in a nearby hospital.

His daughter was out of the danger for the time being but not completely in the clear. Complications could arise again and Harris and his family would have to stay in the city for another year before they could safely move back to their rural town.

In its latest report, the American Hospital Association or AHA has identified key pain points and their potential solutions to alleviate the shortcomings of rural healthcare facilities and to provide better service to people not living in urban environments.

Provision for basic healthcare services

While the healthcare needs across communities may differ widely depending upon geographical location, climate etc., AHA has recognized that the following basic services should be mandatorily provided by all health care facilities –

  • Primary care access
  • Substance abuse disorder treatment
  • Emergency department and observational care
  • Prenatal care
  • Transportation to care
  • Diagnostic services
  • Home care
  • Dentistry
  • Strong referral structure

Social determinants of health

Often, a patient is unable to gain access to a local healthcare provider owing to logistical challenges or unable to follow the dietary instructions of the physician due to food insecurity etc. These related social factors which determine a patient’s best chances at medical treatment have been identified as social determinants of health. The healthcare industry will have to strive to eliminate these obstacles that cause hindrances to proper care by working closely with other social institutions.

Patient – caregiver optimization

As per the latest reports by AHA, there has been a drop in the number of in-patients but increase in the number of out-patients. As such, health care providers are advised to allocate services and man power accordingly to best serve the patient volumes.

Alternative Care Sites

Care sites that serve as viable substitutes to full-fledged medical centers can not only substantially reduce the burden of patient traffic to primary health care providers but can also significantly improve turn-around time for patient care and service.

Emergency Medical Centers or EMCs which often function as stand-alone emergency departments provide emergency and transportation services round the clock. Depending upon communities’ requirements, they may provide out-patient and post acute care services as well.

Urgent Care Centers are another form of stand-alone medical caregivers who can serve to reduce the in-patient traffic at larger hospitals. They can also cater to non life threatening illnesses or injuries which require urgent attention.

Tele-health and technological options

Through Tele-health services, care givers can provide the following services to their patients –

  • Meeting patients outside the healthcare facility
  • More convenient, efficient and cost-effective mode of healthcare delivery
  • Helpful in extremely remote areas where it’s difficult to maintain a strong healthcare force
  • Round the clock access to physicians

Federal, State, community and provider barriers

AHA has recognized certain barriers that have to be removed or overcome in order for many of its suggestions to improve rural healthcare to see the light of day.

Medicare reimbursement will have to be made more accessible for some of the recommended programs to get off the ground. Physician licensure laws across certain states will have to be relaxed so that doctors can practice Tele-health services.


References

  1. Heath, Sara (2016, December 02). AHA Develops Strategies to Enhance Rural Healthcare Access. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from www.patientengagementhit.com: http://patientengagementhit.com/news/aha-develops-strategies-to-enhance-rural-healthcare-access
  2. American Hospital Association (2016, November 29). Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from www.aha.org: http://www.aha.org/content/16/ensuring-accdss-taskforce-report.pdf

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